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Cramming for charity

Friday February 16, 2007

Stephen Hoare

Graduating from the UK?s University of East London with an MA in refugee studies, Aime-Claude Ndongozi works with asylum seekers in Liverpool advising on education and social welfare.

With an emphasis on project management, leadership and law, the masters degree gave Ndongozi, 38, the skills he needed to set up his own consultancy, Refugee Focus. So far as experience goes he has more than enough. He arrived in Britain as a refugee in 2000 from war torn Rwanda. Now Ndongozi wants to help others like himself ? people displaced by war or economic need.

?I wanted the academic tools to understand better my experiences as a refugee and to give myself the competitive edge.?

UEL?s MA in refugee studies is highly regarded by NGOs for its practical approach. Course leader Anita Fabos says: ?Our students go on to work with major charities like the Refugee Council, Asylum Aid, Praxis and Refugee Action. We also have graduates who have gone on to the Home Office and the UN High Commission for Refugees.? Two thirds of UEL?s postgraduate students are from overseas and about a third will be refugees.

The past couple of years has seen an explosion in applications for masters degrees in international NGOs from young people wanting to play a hands-on role in overseas aid. This is coupled with demand from mid-career professionals wanting to climb the ladder in international NGOs like Oxfam, ActionAid and Amnesty.

The reasons are not hard to fathom. Dr Armine Ishkanian of the London School of Economics (also director of the Centre for Civil Society, the highest-rated research institution for international NGOs in Britain) says: ?The public is more focused on the role of the international NGO after high profile natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami, and through campaigns like Make Poverty History, and the G8 summit.?

The London School of Economics ? along with Oxford, Sussex, Leeds, Bradford and Glasgow ? is a leading university for postgraduate studies in international NGOs. Ishkanaian says: ?We are studying issues such as the effect of globalisation on democracy and human rights, the role of NGOs in humanitarian relief, and the role of the celebrity in NGO work.?

In many third world and transition countries, international or local NGOs are taking over the role of the state in providing welfare, health and sanitation.

At LSE there are MScs in social policy and development, anthroplogy and development, and international NGOs and development. An increasing number of universities are launching masters degrees in this area. UEL, for example, has just launched an MSc in international development, Bath has a new MSc in research for international development and Sussex is launching three postgraduate degrees in development studies, poverty and development and science, society and development.

The main website for information on NGO research, the Development Studies Association, lists five pages of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and many are new entries aimed at highly specialised areas of aid work.

Executive director Frances Hill says: ?Universities are launching masters courses in areas like theatre studies and development, third world micro businesses and women?s studies ? almost anything you can think of.?

What differentiates these masters courses is their ability to produce the skills the NGOs themselves need. University departments with strong links to overseas NGOs offer more practical skills and better job prospects for their graduates.

Bath University?s MSc in international development has been running for 10 years. Director of studies Susan Johnson says: ?Graduates wanting to work for an international NGO face a lot of competition and project management skills are increasingly in demand. NGOs want experience but with the additional skills in interpreting what is happening on the ground and in the international policy arena that an MSc can bring.?

Of the 30 students on the Bath MSc, half are from developing countries, a proportion Johnson would like to see increased. ?Overseas students bring an important perspective, but fees are a consideration ? especially for students from the third world ? and there are not enough scholarships available.?

UEL?s new MSc in international development includes a six week placement with an overseas charity. Practical and hands-on, the degree owes a lot to the input of Trevor Parfitt, who until two years ago ran the masters in development at the American University in Cairo. ?Egypt is arguably a third world country and our students were involved in a lot of international aid programmes such as micro-credits programmes ? helping poor people set up their own businesses, water and sanitation. Designing a relief project is very difficult ? there are a lot of variables to take account of, such as politics, funding and local needs. You have to train people to think on their feet.?

Scott Chambers, 35, is one of the first to take the MSc in international development. A graduate in environmental biosciences, Chambers had already done a year?s voluntary work organised by Gap Challenge with the Madagascar-based NGO Azafady. ?In Madagascar the big issues are deforestation and titanium mining. I worked on a local project to study the effect of deforestation on the lemur to help conserve this endangered species. After this MSc I intend to go back and work in the field with a similar conservation charity.?

Parfitt will be setting up an exchange programme between UEL and Cairo and is also looking to establish links to local NGOs in Thailand, Jordan, Ethiopia and Kenya. ?At UEL we are trying to produce a cadre of people whose training and skills will be of use to the NGO sector.?


Development Studies Association


London School of Economics

University of East London







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